Some Knox County leaders have said they want an armed officer on every campus as part of a larger plan to "beef up" security at Knox County schools. That topic wasn't on the agenda of Monday night's Board of Education work session meeting, but it came up during a larger discussion about school security audits. It turns out, all additional officers could be Knox County School employees.
Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre told the BOE that he plans to ask for funding for 58 uniformed officers in his proposed budget for next year. He said it would cost a total of $1,900,000, and would assure that at least one officer is assigned to every school in the district. Currently, most elementary schools do not have a full-time officer assigned. That amount breaks down to around $33,000 per officer. McIntyre said the amount covers salary, training and equipment.
"We need to really get to one standard. I want to know that so that when it comes time for the budget, from a capital expense, what it's going to take to get all schools to the exact same level," said Board member Thomas Deakins.
Increasing officer presence in schools has been a hot topic since a lone gunman shot and killed 26 children and teachers at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012. McIntyre, along with Knox County Sheriff JJ Jones and Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch, have publicly offered their commitment to making sure all Knox County Schools have an officer by fall of 2013 since the days after the Connecticut shooting.
McIntyre's announcement on Monday night adds some clarity to the full security plan he announced last month. That plan came in the wake of the Newtown shooting, and on the heels of security deficiencies in two Knox County schools coming to light.
In January, Sheriff Jones told 10News he planned to ask for funding for 20 additional officers for schools in his upcoming budget proposal. He said it would cost $2,500,000. The sheriff's office currently provides 24 deputies to the schools. It is unclear if Sheriff Jones still plans to ask for those officers; he told 10News last week that he didn't care where the officers come from, he just wants to make sure there is one officer at every school.
Chief Rausch said in January he would need 25 more officers to make sure every school in the city limits had one assigned, but that he thought he could provide adequate protection with five more. Currently, there are 17 KPD officers assigned to Knox County Schools. A KPD spokesperson told 10News Monday night that under McIntyre's proposed plan, KPD will continue provide training to any new school-employed officers, KPD officers currently stationed in schools will remain there, and that KPD and the school district will continue working together to make sure students and teachers are safe.
McIntyre said hiring the new officers as school employees will save Knox County money in the long run, in part because officers are on 10-month contracts, instead of 12 month contracts, with the school district.
"I believe it's one of three strategies that we need to put in place, and what I've heard from both the sheriff and the chief is that our schools are safe, but we need to make them safer. This is an important strategy in how we do that," explained McIntyre.
Knox County already has 45 armed, security officers on staff. They are bonded by the sheriff's office. Adding 58 more puts the school's security force at 103. In total, if the county commission ends up finding McIntyre's request, there would be 144 officers, from Knox County Schools, KPD, and Knox County Sheriff's Office, spread out among the district's 88 schools.
McIntyre said he is also looking into asking the county for money now to begin the hiring process for new officers before the new fiscal year starts on July 1, 2013.
Knox County Schools is hosting a community meeting on safety on Tuesday night at Amherst Elementary School in Northwest Knox County. Sheriff Jones and Chief Rausch will join McIntyre in answering questions, collecting community feedback about McIntyre's plan to equip every school with a video surveillance system, access controls on doors, and increasing officer presence.